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Easy access to info is not always the answer

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

I’ve no problem remembering our home phone number from 50 years ago, but I have to look up my own home number now.

I can instantly recite the registration numbers of my father’s cars from the seventies and eighties – OIM 377 or CZM 578 – but I had to take a photo of my own reg in case I needed it for an NCT or insurance renewal.

One of the first things we were told when we started studying journalism in the College of Commerce in Dublin back in 1981 was to get a contacts book and to write in the phone number of every person you meet that you think might be of help to you at any stage in the future.

Years later you’d see these contacts books in newsrooms, the guarded property of wizened old hacks, help together with Sellotape (the books, not the reporters) and treasured because they’d somehow come to symbolise a lifetime’s endeavour.

They were in themselves a history book; many of the entries were of people long gone; people who’d once held high office; sports stars of a different era – numbers that might have been hard to prise from their owners back then, but now just a momentary memory back to their heyday.

Much more recently, when I did a small bit of lecturing myself, I suggested to the newest batch of journalistic hopefuls that they do the same thing; purely as an exercise, because I know they all have mobiles that store numbers anyway.

But a contacts book was different to a list of phone numbers that you scrolled through on your phone. There was a deliberate action in noting these numbers down – and I also felt that it gave even a fledgling student journalist a sense of being part of a profession and a tradition.

And I know that makes me a Luddite, because a bright ten-year-old will take at most five minutes to find an email address or a WhatsApp contact for almost anyone you care to mention – even people they’ve never met or heard of.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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